Editor’s note: The following is the second in a two-part column. The first part appeared in the Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 2013, issue.
By Jane Hayes
Following are more insights from Mara Stafets, revered English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher from District 205 and Conklin Elementary School, regarding education in America and the need to change strategies for effective teaching. “Glasnost” is a Russian word meaning openness.
Mara brought her two children to America 22 years ago for advantages she expected from a democratic society. Having lived under totalitarianism and the Communist regime in Russia, she wanted the best for her own children, which she imagined would be possible in America.
When she came here, she had to return to school to qualify as an ESL teacher, so she knows firsthand the trials and joys of coping with the American system of education. She would have continued teaching until the demands became too restrictive for positive growth for her students and families. Some families have removed their children from the system because of current autocratic teaching techniques imposed on teachers. Common Core Standards, No Child Left Behind and excessive testing have strangled the lifeblood from the educational process.
“Today, teachers are not trusted in what they do, endangering the whole educational process,” Stafets said. “The authority of teachers has been taken away. Their leadership and common sense have been questioned, and they are constantly under review and forced to teach in fearful situations. Enslaved teachers are constantly threatened with insubordination; such fear is counterproductive to educating smart and critical thinking students who could be valuable assets to our society.
“Lately, we have tossed out reading materials and successful strategies and wasted public monies by going from one extreme to another and not learning from past mistakes,” she added. “We have to be more balanced in our approach, using far more common sense in the education,” replied Mara as to how we can improve education. “Reality is shoved away because of some formal scheme from our leaders and does not work for every educational situation and the diverse needs of our students.”
In asking her about the extreme violence in America and Russia, she replied: “Social issues of violence are rampant in America and Russia. Who am I to judge if European societies are safer? They certainly have fewer guns there, forcing them to use words or fists to resolve conflicts.”
She also believes that if a human being sees something wrong, he or she needs to speak up and do something about it. (Perhaps that quality of critical thought and expression has caused her untimely retirement from the district.)
“People need to care more about their kids and not their pocket books,” she said. “Education adds human value to society and should not be judged as a business enterprise.
“While America was once great because of hard work, initiatives in public education, a free spirit in undertakings, and plain common sense, we can no longer live by bureaucratic and meaningless formulas and slogans imposed on us by non-educators. Unfortunately, the privatization of public education (business and special interests prevailing for profit-ended results) is proving to be the worst form of capitalism yet! How do we, as teachers, stop this madness?” queried Mara.
Mara would like to visit Machu Picchu in Peru and go to Africa in the future. Now, she is off to visit Latvia, Russia, and Portugal. We can only hope she returns to Rockford to contribute her vast knowledge and common-sense solutions to American education.
Dr. Stafets understands the concept of Glasnost, being honest and open in communicating to all stakeholders, is paramount in promoting a democratic progressive school system that contributes to society. Without it, we all fail!
Jane Hayes is a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education and Rockford Educators Advocating Civil Treatment.
From the Oct. 9-15, 2013, issue